At least eight of the 22 women who filed lawsuits against Deshaun Watson have also met with the Houston Police Department as part of its criminal investigation, attorney Tony Buzbee told a Houston television station on Wednesday night.
Buzbee told Fox 26 that “eight to 10” of his clients have spoken with police at this point, while four have met with NFL investigators. He indicated that four more plaintiffs want to speak with the league, but he isn’t sure whether he’ll allow them to do so, claiming that some of the women who met with NFL investigator Lisa Friel “did not feel like they were being respected.”
In response to a request for comment, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy noted that Friel had a lengthy career as the chief of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office before joining the NFL.
“Lisa has earned a stellar reputation as a consummate professional who conducts investigations and interviews with compassion and fairness in an effort to determine the truth,” he wrote in an email.
Buzbee also told Fox 26 that his 22 clients – who accused Watson of sexual misconduct or assault during separate massage sessions over the span of more than a year – have no plans to settle their civil lawsuits.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, acknowledged in a statement that the two sides are not currently discussing a settlement. But he said Buzbee had previously approached Watson’s team “on numerous occasions” about a potential settlement.
“We have made clear all along that there would be no settlement unless the terms are made public and all participants are allowed to speak in their own defense at all times,” Hardin said. “We want none of the participants – the plaintiffs or Mr. Watson – muzzled by a settlement agreement. Mr. Buzbee does not feel the same.”
Buzbee did not respond to an email from USA TODAY Sports on Thursday morning.
Watson, 25, has denied wrongdoing in his only public statement on any of the lawsuits – a tweet he sent on March 16, when the first claim was filed. Hardin acknowledged in a news conference last month that the Houston Texans quarterback did participate in “consensual encounters” during massage sessions, but he has repeatedly defended Watson and portrayed the lawsuits as a money grab.
“The answer to the question of whether we are saying that all 22 plaintiffs are lying about the allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Watson is a resounding yes,” Hardin said in an April 19 statement.
The first woman to accuse Watson of misconduct, Ashley Solis, filed her lawsuit against Watson on March 16. After several weeks of public posturing from Buzbee and Hardin thereafter, the lawyers had largely stepped out of the spotlight prior to Buzbee’s comments Wednesday.
Watson, who led the league in passing yards last season, is facing potential discipline on a number of fronts. Even if he resolves the 22 civil lawsuits before trial, by agreeing to financial settlements with each of the women, there is still a chance that he could ultimately face criminal charges or an NFL suspension.
Under the league’s personal conduct policy, commissioner Roger Goodell has the ability to discipline a player regardless of whether or not that player is criminally charged, as long as “the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so.”
Contributing: Brent Schrotenboer
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.